By Linda C. Runbeck
A recent Pioneer Press column by Sen. Amy Klobuchar called for a federal energy policy with multiple strategies, or in her words, ‘silver buckshot,’ to bring gas prices under control and increase our energy reserves.
A good approach, but she fails to include the simplest and most easily accomplished ways to reach that goal â€” including some that she, as a U.S. senator, could put on the table tomorrow.
For example, Klobuchar said President Bush should “use his bargaining power” with OPEC countries to get them to increase their oil production, yet she neglects discussion of our own domestic sources.
Domestic energy production will stabilize energy prices and create independence from foreign oil. Shouldn’t our leaders be talking about such proven sources as nuclear power, hydropower and clean coal and putting on the table such winners as more refineries and domestic drilling?
Of course they should, yet Congress continues to vote to put vast sources of energy off-limits. Some regions, like the Outer Continental Shelf and Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, are known to contain huge reserves of oil and natural gas.
These proven solutions are not without their down-sides and environmental costs â€” and Congress must intensify the demand for technological answers â€” but we are a producer nation that is totally dependent on abundant and reliable energy. Our domestic supplies of coal, oil and natural gas offer the most immediate hope for a nation whose energy needs are increasing, not decreasing.
High gasoline prices are a worldwide problem of supply and demand spiked by increasing demand from China and India and near-capacity production. When Klobuchar puts the blame on traders and the futures market and proposes new regulations, she risks hurting U.S. investors and distorting the very market that operates to warn us of pending limited supplies and increased worldwide demand.
Alternatives to fossil fuel are essential, but they must pollute less and be cost effective and efficient to produce. Unfortunately, Klobuchar’s alternatives score poorly. The ethanol mandate she claimed victory for in late 2007 requires a 700 percent increase in ethanol production by 2022, but will come at a huge cost of increased food prices and reduced supply.
Despite assurances from Klobuchar that cellulosic ethanol is just around the corner, a February 2008 study from Iowa State University concludes it’s a risky bet that it can supply the billions of gallons Congress mandated by 2022, and it’s even more expensive to subsidize than corn-based ethanol.
Klobuchar is also poised to penalize oil and natural gas producers with increased drilling fees on public lands while Congress leans toward increased taxes and elimination of tax deductions. Such responses will translate directly into higher prices at the pump and slow the development of domestic energy supplies. In fact, the extremely low oil prices of the 1990s mothballed many small domestic producers; now, they should be encouraged to get their production facilities up and running again.
Higher fees and taxes on energy producers will further penalize the consumer and the legions of small investors and retirees whose investments in mutual funds or diversified retirement plans stand to lose.
Klobuchar is right: The nation needs a “smart, strong long-term energy strategy.” While conservation and alternative fuels must be included, alone they do not meet current or future needs. Until we find the “bridge” to more environmentally friendly energy alternatives, we must depend on proven sources of abundant and cost-effective energy to supply our food and fuel our homes, jobs, businesses and transportation.
Congress should focus on encouraging domestic energy production and making sure our U.S. energy producers are working overtime to increase our energy reserves. What we don’t need are counterproductive efforts by Congress that disadvantage U.S. companies working hard to produce the proven conventional energy resources that keep us moving. Whether it’s a silver bullet or silver buckshot, we have to make sure we’re aiming at the right target.
Linda Runbeck is a former Minnesota state senator and is president of the American Property Coalition, based in St. Paul.